People Make W.Va. Wild, Wonderful

“It wouldn’t be right,” my co-worker years ago said, in rejecting a suggestion some other college students and I had made.

Four of us were in summer jobs with what then was the West Virginia State Road Commission. Among our co-workers was a gentleman in a special program summed up by the its nickname: He was a “dollar an hour” worker.

We’d heard him talk about his family and we’d decided he had enough children that he could stop working and make a few dollars more by collecting welfare benefits.

No, he said. As long as he was able to work for a paycheck, he would. Not doing so just wouldn’t be right.

As we Mountain State residents celebrated the 150th birthday of West Virginia this summer, much of the focus has been on history, places we love and special events we’ve enjoyed.

But what makes us who we are is our fellow West Virginians. It’s them, not just the beautiful valleys and rugged mountains of our state, who make this someplace very special.

Among those I love most are my fellow newspapermen and women. One, a weekly paper owner, for many years had a great way of raising money for poor children at Christmas. In early winter, he’d climb up on his building’s roof and stay there until he collected enough donations to help many of them. It got cold up there, I’m told.

What he did is typical of so many of my newspaper friends when they hear about children in need.

The courage and determination many of my peers show inspires me. I know many of them who, faced with the choice of alienating a big advertiser or failing to defend their communities, haven’t hesitated to do the right thing. And you, dear reader, never hear about it.

So many “civilians” outside newspapering have inspired me down through the years. There was the little girl from a poor family who spent all the money a civic group gave her for Christmas on presents for her mother and brother. And the young man I saw dive from a bridge to save children in danger in a flooded creek.

There were the local coal miners most people don’t know were leaders in the Miners for Democracy movement to clean up their union during the 1970s – some at very great personal risk.

There are the many school teachers I’ve known who dug into their own pockets to buy classroom supplies, even clothing and shoes, for poor children.

There’s the high school football coach I heard one night, after the referees had missed a late hit by one of my friend’s players. “That was just wrong,” he yelled as he benched the offender.

There was the older businessman, known universally in his town as a curmudgeon, who for many years secretly bought toys, clothing and food each Christmas for a single mother’s family. He told her the gifts would continue until the kids were adults – unless she revealed the name of her benefactor. He had a reputation to uphold, you understand.

There isn’t enough space in today’s paper for me to even list the people who make me proud to be a West Virginian.

We sometimes explain to outsiders that our state is wild and wonderful. But so are West Virginians.

Happy sesquicentennial, then, to us.

Myer can be reached at